Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Churches Can Fight City Hall and Win

A version of this article originally appeared on Technorati on 2 March 2010. To see all my Technorati articles, click Lifestyle in the Contents listing on the sidebar.

The Crossroads United Methodist Church in Phoenix, Arizona, has an outreach ministry to the city's homeless population. Part of that outreach includes reaching out to the downtown area and pulling in, by the bus load, as many homeless folks as they can find every Saturday morning for a pancake breakfast.

The problem with this laudable practice is that Crossroads is in a posh neighborhood, and the rich folks that live there are none too keen on having walking, talking reminders of "There, but for the grace of God, go I" in their midst. They like their churches like they like their children, seen and not heard.

Rich folks have lawyers, and these rich folks' lawyers impressed their clients' position upon the local politicians they underwrite, who forthwith issued an injunction against said pancake breakfast, ordering Crossroads, citing zoning law restrictions, to cease and desist, or face consequences.

That should take care of that, said the city fathers to themselves, what with the little guy's inability to fight city hall and all.

Enter the hero in the white hat, in this western melodrama, who happens to be none other than . . . the U.S. Congress?

That's right, that loathsome first branch of government passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act back in 2000, and it's been taking down city halls under similar scenarios all across the country ever since.

"The law has teeth," says Charles Hanes of the First Amendment Center in Nashville. " It's a big mistake for local officials to try to limit the ministry of religious groups."

The case will be heard in federal court on March 24th. At least until then the pancake breakfasts will continue.

Nice work, Congress.

Photo credit: Modern Phoenix

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